Contribute something productive you reprobate!!

The leading English language magazine. Now covering Poitou-Charentes, Dordogne, Vendée and Haute-Vienne too!

Living magazine distribution map

Fishing for sea bass

Fishing for sea bass

Ron Cousins takes a closer look at sea bass, a favourite with anglers and diners alike

Low in calories, an excellent source of protein, selenium and essential omega-3 fatty acids, delicious, nutritious and high on angling’s list of favourite fish - that’s Dicentrarchus labrax, the European sea bass or bar as it is written on the poissonnier’s display.

The big mouthed, silver bodied fish with two impressive spiked dorsal fins is one of the most significant, in economic terms, for the French fishing industry. Each year 5,000 tons, worth over 45 million euros, is taken from the seas around France. The bass also has a huge rod-and-line following here with over one million anglers dedicating their fishing time to catching them from beach and boat. The most famous among them is Patrick Sebile who is rated as one of the world’s top bass anglers and has designed many of the best-selling fish-imitating lures.

The high culinary and sporting status of the species is, however, putting huge pressure on fish stocks and threatening its long term future. As a result, some areas where the fish are known to gather in large numbers for spawning in early spring have been designated ‘nursery zones’ where all commercial and recreational fishing is completely banned. Also, from 1 April, there has been a 3 fish daily limit on rod-caught bass that covers all the Netherlands and UK as well as north-west France. This will be extended to cover other areas as data on fish movements is collected. France is at the forefront of this thanks to the work of IFREMER, the French Ocean Research Institute.

Scientists are checking growth, behaviour, movement and migratory routes in an on-going fish tagging programme. Orange coloured electronic tags in the fish’s abdominal cavity (indicated by blue markings on the body in front of the pectoral fins), or externally attached to the back of the dorsal fin, have an IFREMER identity number together with contact details. There is a 50€ reward for returning the tag and 100€ if the researchers can also receive the fish. Trawler men, fish wholesalers and retailers, and sport fishermen alike are sending in the tags. If the fish dies naturally, an in-built float allows the tags to eventually drift ashore and hopefully be found so it’s worth watching for them on the beach.
So, safe in the knowledge that the welfare of the bass is under constant review, how can we set out to catch one?

The waters off the entire 600km of shoreline from the Gironde estuary to the northern tip of the Vendée are their home at this time of year. Fishing for them is completely free of charge but a fish has to be over 40cm long before it can be taken away and it is illegal to sell any fish caught. Bass aficionados rate the waters around La Rochelle and Île d’Oléron best; the farthest point on Île de Ré is a noted bass hotspot - but dangerous in high seas - while a Vendée favourite is Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie where bass roam the estuary and rocky breakwater. Most places are worth a try, with the two hours before and after high water generally the most productive as bass hunt in small groups and stay in deeper pools and rocky areas at low tide. On long, open beaches expect bass in gullies and odd rocky areas - as a general rule the bigger the surf the better the chances of catching.

Feeding fish come close inshore seeking worms and crabs displaced by the rising tide so there is no need for long casting, a freshwater carp or spinning rod will do the job. The number one bait for this job is peeler crab - the soft-bodied ones that have shed their shells and hide out in rock pools until the new one grows. These can be collected at low water and then attached to a size 1 to 2/0 hook using elasticated cotton, and fished with a simple running leger rig. Lugworm can be dug or bought from tackle shops and fished the same way.

In the estuaries the same baits can be float fished using a coarse fishing rod while triangular-shaped pieces of mackerel on the hook also work well when the float is allowed to flow with the current.

Fly fishermen can also go down to the sea again because the bass compares favourably with any trout when it comes snatching a fly so fiercely that the rod is almost taken out of your hand. A 2kg bass on a fly rod certainly sets the adrenalin flowing. Flies tied for sea fishing are available but sea trout patterns and large, bright wet flies like Butcher and Alexandra work well.

Casting a lure is by far the most popular way of fishing for bass in France and this is reflected in the vast selection available in the tackle shops. Many plug baits and spinners in a pike fisherman’s tackle box will prove equally effective with the saltwater predator but, if you are buying for the sea, then slim, jointed lures that mimic the movement of sand eels are first choice.

Whether a regular or occasional angler, now is the time to give bass fishing a try. Whatever tackle you have can fit the bill and maybe put one of the most prized fish on the table. You could even pocket some tagged fish euros and perhaps enjoy the whole beach experience so much that you want to do it again and say, as Charles Trenet did in his classic song “La mer, a berce mon cœur pour la vie” - the sea, it has claimed my heart.

© Living Magazine

Published Aug 2015